The Happiness Budget

UN’s Human Development Index creates a yearly World Happiness Report, which outlines a number of factors believed to contribute to wellbeing or happiness. This information is another way to gauge how well a country is doing rather than relying solely on the financial metrics in the GDP. After all, the financial prosperity of a country often has little to do with human happiness as evidenced in Scandinavia.

Consistently the Northern European region consisting of Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden rank the highest in the UN’s report, offering what is probably the best quality of life in human history. Yet the region is slow-growing with a GDP forecast for this year hovering around 2 percent. There are a number of other impressive achievements, including the fact that Northern Europe currently emits less than half the US carbon emissions per capita. 

So what is going on in the cold, white North? Much has been reported on this as of late. Not only is the region happier than other places in the world, it is producing an ultra-modern and sought after Scandinavian design ethos. Lifestyle gurus are clamoring for the secrets to the Danish Hygge. The winter Olympics are constantly dominated by these tiny countries. Maybe it is something in the long winters, the crisp air or even the clean water and food.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Norway and the experiences reminded me of what my life was like growing up in a small town in Alberta, Canada. We walked to school, in what seemed like feet of snow, two times per day. We ate a warm meal at home during the lunch hour. We played outside when we were not at school and the deep snow of winter was the best time of year. Our homes were kept cool out of a desire to not waste money on heating when a sweater was easily at hand. Winter holidays were spent skiing, sledding, skating and hanging out with family and friends. Summer was a time to be near the water, be it a lake or a river. We rode our bicycles everywhere we wanted to go. Meals were simple, created with whole foods. Vegetables were often pulled from the family garden.

Based on various reports, it would be easy to derive a list of what drives Scandinavian happiness. The data is readily available. But, for those of us living outside of the region, how can this help inform our personal choices? Human happiness and wellbeing is a complicated affair of the heart. The exact combination which works for one person does not necessarily do the trick for another. Yet, we often act as pack animals, by easily following others. Societal norms create pre-selected, limited choices. We feel like our levels of happiness are unique, when in fact research finds broad similarities across groups.

It does not matter if you believe happiness is achieved within group dynamics or not. What is important to understand is which elements are required for you to feel a higher level of happiness or wellbeing. Studying what works well for others is always a good place to start. Which is all great, but what is the best way to track and record progress over time?

Financial metrics are easily ranked in the GDP, wellbeing factors are measured in the happiness report, I wonder if there is a home version? Why not create a personal happiness budget with important criteria or goals which can be chunked down and tracked daily or weekly? The budget would identify the areas of focus with descriptors of the desired future state. In a snapshot of one page, the budget structure is easy to reference and provides focus. The specifics are completely customizable.

For those of us who have ever created a budget, along with tracking of daily expenses, we know the satisfaction of watching our progress over time. Debts are slowly paid down with the flow if income. Math is wonderful in this way. The calculations are crystal clear and easy to understand. The whole thing is beautiful if time and care are taken to review progress regularly. 

Why not apply the same strategy when planning for success in the area of personal happiness? We all have a fixed amount of time in a day and are only able to devote a certain amount of effort to each part of it. This combination of time and effort become the resources, much like income. Thankfully there is no such thing as debt in this calculation, (although some of us might be borrowing against our health). Expense categories are the various ways we chose to spend time and effort in order to yield maximum personal happiness.

I always like to check and see what others are doing before I embark on a new project or develop an idea. In this case, my internet searches turned up very little. Mostly I found that a happiness budget was defined as money set aside for fun activities. That was not what I had in mind, instead I went back to my research files. I have chosen to focus on 8 pillars of wellness:

  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Financial
  • Occupational
  • Social
  • Environmental

Stay tuned for the next 8 weeks where I dive into each of these pillars. But, before that, how will I track these pillars of wellness in my happiness budget? Some may think that is not necessary as the process of identification is enough to bring awareness to everyday action. If that is true for you, great! I know myself and the deep ruts of my habits are too strong to change by suggestion. So I need a tracker of some sort.

In order to fit neatly into my bullet journal format, I have created a wellness chart to bring daily awareness to my efforts. In this spot, I only need to quickly block out a square if I have taken some kind of action. The specifics will be recorded in each day with keywords, so I can hopefully embed these new habits with repetition over time. 

If you are curious to see how this unfolds in more detail, stay tuned to dailycreatives. Don’t forget to take this opportunity to share with like-minded friends and family. The 8 pillars of wellness are the foundation of Start with a 5-minute daily practice, take the challenge, deepen your experience with the online retreat or ‘in-real-life’. Whatever you have time for, join us to create a life you don’t need a vacation from.

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